Howl’s Moving Castle is about a young girl named Sophie who gets changed into an old, ugly woman by an even uglier old witch, the Witch of the Waste. Sophie, realizing she can’t let anyone see her like that without prompting questions (and the curse forbids her to talk about it), leaves her mother’s house in the middle of the night to go wander the wilderness and find a way to break the curse. She runs into a scarecrow stuck upside down in a bush, whom she rescues, and he points her in the direction of Howl’s Castle, even helping her into the back door. Inside, Sophie meets Calcifer, a fire demon who claims to be under some kind of curse himself that is tied to the wizard Howl. He makes an agreement with Sophie that if she helps him break his curse, he’ll help her with hers.
Howl’s apprentice soon comes to really like Sophie, and Howl keeps her on as his cleaning lady. Sophie is a little intimidated by Howl as he is known in her town for eating the hearts of young, beautiful women. However, she is not really that worried because she considers herself ugly, even when she wasn’t under the curse. One day, Sophie cleans the bathroom and accidentally switches Howl’s potions around so that when he showers, he winds up dying his hair black instead of his every day blonde. The wizard gets so upset that he throws a temper tantrum and floods the house with slime. By then, Sophie’s had just about enough of Howl’s vanity and basically tells him to stop being so stupid. Howl slowly digests this and gets over himself, becoming less vain and more loving than ever before.
Eventually, it is evident that Sophie has fallen in love with Howl. When the king calls all witches and wizards to report to him for duty
in the war they are currently waging (as laid out in their original oaths to the king), Howl avoids going in because he doesn’t agree with the war and is terrified of the king’s high wizard, his mentor. He sends Sophie in his place to pretend she is his mother and talk him down to the king’s wizard, explaining Howl is really a very big coward who will not fight. Howl follows along behind her to make sure she is okay, which is good because the wizard is basically setting a trap for him, knowing the two are in love and not really related.
Howl rescues Sophie from the wizard, and the Witch of the Wastes, who has now had her powers stripped by the king’s wizard, goes to live with them. Howl starts fighting in the war, now that he “has something worth protecting (Sophie).” The wizards who have been fighting for the king all along have turned themselves into these giant flying creatures, kind of like birds, and are now unable to change back to being human. Howl finds himself in this predicament, but Sophie, after removing Howl’s heart from
Calcifer (a highly complicated part of the story I am not even going to attempt to explain as I don’t completely comprehend it myself) is able to talk the fire demon into life, saving him, Howl, and the rest of her “family” in the process, as well as breaking the spell on herself and the scarecrow from the beginning of the story. (This last bit brings the war to an end because the scarecrow is actually the prince from a neighboring country who has been missing for quite some time and assumed kidnapped by Howl and Sophie’s country).
There is a lot more detail to this movie, obviously, but if you want to know what it is, go watch it. I loved it, surprisingly, as I haven’t been a huge fan of Miyazaki’s so far. There are some things, such as the high quantity of magic, demons, spells, curses, and some violence in this movie that parents of little children probably won’t be a fan of. I don’t think there is anything offensive for older children or teens unless their parents are angered by magic being in stories. Howl starts out very vain and conceited, but that soon changes. There is a strong anti-war feeling about this movie, which could anger some people, but I really took from it that the reason Howl was so against fighting in the war was because no one would even explain why it was necessary. I wasn’t offended, and I have strong ties to the American military. Also, Miyazaki’s common thread of pollution being a detriment to society was kind of present in this movie at
the beginning before Sophie is changed to an old woman; trains and vehicles are seen spouting tons of soot and smoke into the air. There is also a part right at the beginning when Sophie is cornered by a couple of soldiers who kind of imply they intend on raping her when Howl shows up and flies her away to safety. There is also a little bit of smoking, but it has bad consequences. What I took from the movie is that it was really about being brave and standing up for what you believe in, as well as protecting those you love.
**Napier, Susan Jolliffe. Anime from Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. Print.**
– Posted by Amy